I like to think I’m pretty smart. I know a few things, at least, I think I do. I’ve got my Bachelor degree. I’ve got some, although limited, experience preaching. My reading quota has been upped this year, improving my knowledge base.
HOWEVER, after reading from the latest edition of Robert E. Picirilli’s Paul the Apostle, I was overwhelmed by how little I know, how limited my education and understanding is, and how all pastors and teachers need to up their game. Because the Apostle Paul had game for miles, and I mean MILES. The least we could do is honour his work by actually doing some work.
In the early chapters of Paul The Apostle, Picirilli discusses Paul’s early life, and in particular his education which he received in Jerusalem. Under the watchful eye of Gamaliel, Paul would have learned a great many things, on top of his already staggering intellect and knowledge base.
Picirilli shares what it would have been like for Paul to be learning under such a rabbi, and exactly what was required of such students.
“Rabbinic methodology (how rabbis taught their pupils) called for each generation of rabbis to pass along to the next that body of oral tradition already described, to be memorized and preserved. These traditions included all the rules and ceremonies that governed life and served as the hedge about the law. Also included were standardized interpretations of various Old Testament portions and a methodology for teaching the law to a synagogue community.”
Now, that might sound like a lot of mumbo-jumbo, but let me highlight a couple of things.
Notice the vast number of things he was required to have memorized. MEMORIZED. No cheat notes. No handy colour coded, underlined verses, or a concordance when you weren’t sure. Paul and any other rabbi would have to KNOW and teach from memory. There were no shelves of commentaries for them to grab from. They were required to reach into their memory banks and recall, with accuracy, what they were taught.
I could stop there. How many of you pastors or leaders KNOW, word for word, phrase for phrase what any given book in the Bible says? Now, I realize that there are some church leaders that have taken it upon themselves to do such memorization of Scripture. To them, I humbly applaud, and yet ask this question: are those OLD TESTAMENT books? The ones with the weird, hard to pronounce names, the cities that archaeology can’t find? Did you memorize that one minor prophet that is all lamentations and woes? Or Lamentations for that matter?
Paul would have. According to the rabbinic tradition, he would have been well on his way in this kind of schooling when he was seen at the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7.
That by itself blows my mind. And to think that we, as pastors, teachers, spiritual leaders have decided that we are okay with having things highlighted, that as long as we have ACCESS to the information we will be fine. Yes, there is more information and knowledge to master and grab a hold of now, but what kind of lame excuse is “Well, I don’t have to know it. I have it in a book somewhere.”?
Upon reading this passage, my mind went to the Psalms.
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” – Psalm 119:11
How quickly we avoid this verse. Not the memorizing of it, because its easy to remember and we should so spiritual when we recite this one verse. But how quickly we forget to implement the truth of this verse.
We have neglected to take the vast resources and information that we have access to and allowed them to seep in, past the brain, and into the heart. How quickly we resort to the easy way of doing things, rather than the most impactful way. And not just for ourselves, but for those that we preach and teach.